In an interesting twist, Laura Miller, a professional writer who’s nonetheless never written a novel, offers her tips for novelists over at Salon.com. I like this concept. As she says, “Readers are what every novelist really wants, so isn’t it about time that a reader offered them some advice?”
Her first two tips are right on the money. The next three, though? I’m not so sure. How ’bout you?
1. Make your main character want something.
2. Make your main character do something.
Classic advice. Have an active protagonist.
3. The components of a novel that readers care about most are, in order: story, characters, theme, atmosphere/setting.
Mmmm … OK, I’ll take it, especially when taking into account part of her explanation:
Of course all these elements are interlinked, and in the best fiction they all contribute to and enhance each other. But if you were to eliminate these elements, starting at the end of the list and moving toward the beginning, you could still end up with a novel that lots of people wanted to read ….
4. Remember that nobody agrees on what a beautiful prose style is and most readers either can’t recognize “good writing” or don’t value it that much.
Here’s where I disagree. I think most readers do recognize good writing. When a beautiful piece of prose touches their soul, they recognize it. Yes, people also devour books that aren’t written magnificently, but that doesn’t mean they don’t recognize it when they are. Nor does it mean novelists shouldn’t strive for it.
… I’ve seen as many books ruined by too much emphasis on style as by too little.
Well then, I’d argue that that isn’t such “good writing.” Just because prose is flowery or sounds, well, pretentious, doesn’t mean it’s good.
5. A sense of humor couldn’t hurt. American writers in particular are often anxious to be perceived as “serious,” which they tend to equate with a mournful solemnity. Like most attempts to appear grown-up, it just makes you look childish.
That one, I’ll have to leave alone because I’m apparently reading different books than Ms. Miller is. I gravitate toward books that do have a sense of humor. So maybe I agree with her there.
What do you think about these tips? Do they speak to you, as a writer?
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